Thursday, 2 July 2009

The Day They Tore The Dark Room Down - Part 3 of 3

The first thing Jenny saw when she walked into the bar was the bricklayer, or the man from the train who had joked about being a bricklayer. She almost gave him a polite hello, before she noticed that one hand was on an open briefcase from which a tiny clown person was climbing out. There was another clown dropping from the table to the floor, and another in front of him. She looked along a line of tiny, waddling clowns until she saw a mound of them piled on top of a writhing person, presumably Dante. The miniature knives in their hands were raised in unison then brought down repeatedly into Dante’s flesh.

Jenny acted quickly, and with a flick of her wrist and a whispered word she lifted the attacking clowns a few feet into the air. She couldn’t hold them there for long, but it was long enough for Gabriel to pull Dante free, or what was left of him. The tiny knives had slashed his clothes and flesh into confetti and his black blood had spread out into a sticky pool where his body had been a second ago. She had never seen him hurt this bad before.

‘Please,’ said the bricklayer, ‘I would prefer it if you didn’t interfere.’

Jenny couldn’t hold the clowns anymore anyway and she let them drop. They landed hard and rolled around on their backs, waving their arms and legs like insects unable to right themselves. It would give her some time before they attacked again, she thought, but when she turned back to the briefcase there were already a dozen more clowns on the ground and on their way towards her.

‘Maybe I can’t hurt them,’ she said, ‘but I can stop you.’

Jenny rubbed her hands together, opened her palms and blew. White hot energy crackled between her fingers which she aimed at the bricklayer.

‘And then what?’ he asked, ‘You think they’ll fall back just because I’m dead? They won’t stop until I make them stop.’

Jenny gave this a moment’s thought, then redirected the energy at the dozen or so clowns now at her feet. She fried the majority, their eyeballs popping as they convulsed and span around before finally dropping to the floor dead. It hadn’t helped – two dozen more were already waddling towards her. Yet more were heading for the main room.

‘You can’t do this, there are people in there,’ argued Jenny.

‘You had fair warning,’ he replied, ‘You were given a chance to ensure the building was empty. You didn’t take it. Now it’s too late.’

Gabriel pointed at a couple of clowns who had run into a steel pillar and full of disbelief he said, ‘They’re tearing the place apart.’

Jenny could only watch as they slashed at it with their knives and when that proved fruitless chomped at the metal with their over-sized mouths. This second tactic was surprisingly effective. Other clowns were using similar methods to turn chairs and tables to sawdust in seconds. And there were still more clowns emerging from the case with no sign of stopping. A couple more minutes and the Dark Room would be overrun, a few minutes after that and there would be nothing and nobody left.

Jenny repeated the incantation she uttered before, but widened the spread and lifted everything in the room a couple of inches off the ground. The clowns wiggled their legs frantically, trying to run through the air and looking around in confusion when they didn’t gain any ground. Those closest to Jenny, Gabriel and Dante slashed at them with the knives. Some even slashed at each other, desperate to destroy something.

‘Can you hold them?’ asked Dante, pulling himself to his knees with the help of a nearby table.

Only the table had been partially destroyed by clowns and collapsed under his weight. He fell towards a couple of suspended clowns and Gabriel only just managed to pull him to safety. Jenny looked down at his wrecked body. He had been cut to ribbons and had lost so much blood that the wounds were slow to heal. She didn’t even know if he would heal fully this time. But at least he was moving.

‘No,’ said Jenny, honestly, ‘Not for long anyway.’

She was already starting to sweat with the exertion of keeping so many things afloat with her magic. Across the other side of the room the bricklayer was floating serenely a couple of feet above the clowns. He had the briefcase in his arms and was shaking it so the clowns could escape into the room more easily. The tumbled out into Jenny’s spell like astronauts in zero gravity and drifted towards the others until the room was thick with clowns.

‘We have to get them back into that case,’ stated Dante.

‘Yeah, I gathered that,’ said Jenny.

Gabriel tried to grab one of the clowns but it slashed at his arm, drawing blood.

‘Fucker,’ he swore, then grabbed at the clown again and brought it crashing down at his feet where he stamped repeatedly on the creature’s head. A pool of multicoloured blood spread out behind its cracked skull.

This was followed by a silence as the clowns all looked toward their fallen comrade in unison. It took Jenny a moment to realise that there was something more worrying about the silence, and it wasn’t until she saw a couple of very confused looking people walk into the room that she realised what it meant - the band had stopped playing.


It was only when Django found himself performing before the assembled masses that he began to question the logic behind what he was doing. And there was logic there somewhere, although it was more like a kind of dream logic than actual real life logic. Only he knew it wasn’t a dream – it felt too real. There was also nothing to gain in trying to make sense of it. So he’d decided early on to act as if in a dream, going along with every increasingly bizarre development until some meaning or preferably some means of escape presented itself.

He didn’t feel quite so confident in the ring. They were all staring at him, waiting for him to do something. There were the people in coats on the left with large, bulging shapes bobbing up and down around their bellies, and then on the right the others. The others were the new people. The men in coats had been there a long time, perhaps forever. They knew how everything worked and the melting man had explained most of it to Django. The new people perform for them and if they perform well and one of the coats has a vacancy they get a permanent place on the left. On the left they get all the purple dream juice they could ever want.

The melting man hadn’t called it ‘purple dream juice’. He had simply said ‘dreams’.

‘We feed them dreams,’ he said, ‘It keeps them happy.’

But there weren’t very often vacancies for those wanting to feed on dreams. Mostly the people did their acts, took some abuse from the crowd then went back to the right where they were crammed into a space that would struggle to accommodate half their number. There were very few dreams over there, but there was the odd one.

A few of the people in coats were pickier than the others and hadn’t found their perfect act yet. So they wandered the cramped stalls looking for talent. Django was performing for one of them now. Jan had introduced them, thinking it would give Django an edge over the other potentials. His full name was far too complicated to remember so Django called him Jim. It seemed to fit. Jim was skinnier and shinier than most of the people in coats, but had a large belly where he kept the dreams. His dreams were clearly in demand as the other acts were forever crowding around him, trying to attract his attention. But Jim’s attention was on Django.

Most of the acts, and Django had watched a good few before going on, had involved bleeding. In fact, come to think of it they had all involved bleeding in some form or other. They either started with a wound, or incorporated some kind of self-harm into the act whether it was a slit wrist or flaying of flesh, and almost all ended with a widening pool of blood on the ground beneath the performer. Some bled quickly and heavily, other bled slowly and for longer. No one bled long enough to die from it, although Django had seen more than one come close.

Jim hadn’t known what to make of Django’s act. He bled, and he bled well, but it was the wrong colour and it went back into the flesh afterwards. This he found most unusual. It was different, different enough for him to take a chance on the hope that this was the act he had been waiting for. Which is how Django ended up performing for Jim and why he was now in the centre of the ring biting his wrist open.

When the blood went back in there was silence.


Bobby had expected Molly to freeze in front of the crowd, maybe for a moment, then he figured when the silence became more awkward than the sound of her own voice she might actually get over it. She ran away instead. Which left Bobby on guitar and Laloo on drums, making sounds.

He looked at Laloo and mouthed, ‘Drum solo’.

She wasn’t even looking.

He found Molly backstage packing her gear up. It wasn’t the first time, usually they’d figure out a way to carry on without her. It had happened so many times that Jenny had pretty much learnt to play the bass guitar based on the occasions she’d been forced to take over. They never came down too hard on Molly as a result – she was different in ways they couldn’t imagine. But this time it was unacceptable.

‘People are going to die if we don’t finish this set,’ said Bobby.

‘Do you have any idea how ludicrous that sounds?’ argued Molly, ‘It’s a fucking gig! They came to see Jenny, just like always, she fucking left so now they’re not interested. That’s all.’

‘You’re the one who’s not interested, Molly,’ he spat back at her, ‘Every bloody rehearsal we have to sit through you going on and on about never getting a chance. And now you’ve got it and you’re packing up!’

‘Is it?’ asked Molly, ‘Can you call this my big chance when Jenny’s got the audience fucking hypnotised into thinking we’re fucking Zeppelin as long as we make noises?’

Bobby was silent, but not because he couldn’t think of a response. He had been distracted by the tiny clown at Molly’s feet, swinging a knife at her ankles.


Django was lining up at the back of the tent. They hadn’t liked his act. No one had cheered. No applause, not even a polite cricket clap. They hadn’t booed either, they had mainly just looked at him in confusion. But that was worse than booing apparently and he was sent right to the back of the class. Or tent, where there was a queue leading to another exit.

As he made his slow progress towards the exit he passed the insect band and though they were still in shadow he now realised they were much larger than he first thought. It was while he was looking at the creatures that Jim walked alongside him in the queue.

‘Sorry, chap,’ he said, ‘It was a rather unusual performance, but that was your problem, you see. We can handle a little deviation here and there, but what you did, that was practically avant-garde and it just won’t do.’

Django nodded, accepting this, though in a way what he had seen the others do was to him much stranger than his act.

‘Still, I don’t want you to leave here empty handed,’ Jim continued, ‘You won’t get many dreams where you’re going.’

Until that point Django had presumed he was going home. Suddenly he started to wonder, but he didn’t have much time to wonder as Jim was opening his coat and the acts around him were abandoning the queue to get to Jim. Django looked down at the weeping protrusion where Jim’s belly button ought to have been. A drop of the purple dream juice was dribbling out and down towards his crotch.

‘A parting gift,’ offered Jim.

And though their eyes were wide and their mouths watering the assembled acts scrabbling to get closer to Jim seemed to understand that this was meant for Django and Django only.

Django looked at the exit, and saw that it wasn’t an exit at all but a distorted mirror. He watched as the next act in line, a skinny young man who’d flayed half the flesh off his torso, reached out to touch the curve in the reflective surface only for it to ripple like water. And as the flayed man stepped through the glass the reflection on the other side became even more distorted with parts of it shrinking and other parts, its head, feet and hands, remaining the same size. The thing that remained on the other side was not a man at all, but a tiny, ugly clown.


Another clown emerged from the briefcase, joining the hundreds of others floating in the bar of the Dark Room. Jenny was straining to keep the other clowns afloat but found herself distracted by the growing group of confused onlookers making their way through from the other room. One had already tried to make it to the exit and had been cut to shreds by the clowns’ knives as a result. At the same time a couple of rogue clowns had escaped Jenny’s spell and made it through. She could already hear the screams.

Dante was still piecing himself together and too fragmented to help. Even if he was at full strength there was little he would be able to do other than stare in horror like Gabriel. The furniture that had been in the room was nothing but dust now and the clowns nearest the walls had already torn most of the plastering apart.

‘I’m losing it,’ she warned.

The levitation spell was a party trick, not meant for prolonged use. She was amazed she had kept it up this long.

Dante turned to Gabriel who was reloading the shotgun, ‘Take out as many as you can.’

Gabriel nodded, aiming at the clowns closest to the people.

‘Stay back!,’ shouted Jenny, but they couldn’t hear. Collectively the clowns made a noise that individually would sound like a chattering of teeth but in their hundreds more closely resembled an earthquake.

She was so focused on the people and their suicidal dash for the exit that she failed to notice the clown at her feet that had crawled under her spell and was about to take a bite out of her leg.


‘That’s it,’ said Molly as she backed away from the clowns at her feet, ‘I quit!’

‘You can’t,’ said Bobby, although he was too confused by the sight of tiny clowns to offer any rational reason not to quit.

‘I’m sick of this shit, Bobby,’ continued Molly, ‘We’re a band! The only thing that’s ever supposed to kill us is ourselves, or maybe each other, but not—‘

There was a dull smacking sound as Bobby turned to see what had shut Molly up. Evidently Laloo had punched her in the face. Her nose was bleeding and she looked as if she might cry.

Laloo lifted Molly’s head up to face her and said, ‘That’s better. They like it when we bleed.’

Then she grabbed Molly’s hand and led her back out onstage. Bobby ran after them, and by the time he had picked up his guitar Laloo had started into another song – Molly’s song. Molly looked at Bobby and he started to play. The clowns were on the stage now, Molly had nowhere to go. So she wiped the blood from her nose and started to sing.


Jenny would’ve let go anyway, she had no choice, but it seemed that the moment she did so the band started to play and the people turned around. Suddenly Molly’s voice on the mic was the most beautiful thing she had ever heard. Only it was followed by the worst - the sound of a thousand tiny clowns hitting the concrete floor.

Jenny, Dante and Gabriel looked down at the horde of clowns and realised with some reluctance that they would be torn down along with the building.

‘Take him out,’ Dante said to Gabriel, indicating the man with the case.

‘But how are we supposed to--‘

Dante cut Gabriel off, ‘We’re not supposed to. Just take him out, make sure he won’t do this to anyone else.’

Gabriel looked at the clowns clawing at his feet, then levelled the gun at the man with the briefcase. Only he didn’t have the briefcase anymore, it was on the floor at his feet. And something else was emerging from inside, something much larger than any of the clowns.

‘Django!’ screamed Jenny, recognising his face as he pulled himself up into the room.

Django climbed to his feet took a quick look around. The clowns were everywhere now but that didn‘t seem bother him. He spat something into his hand then held it up for all in the room to see – a thick, sticky, purple liquid.

The clowns all turned in unison and charged Django, not to hurt him but desperate to get to the liquid in his hand. But it wasn’t in his hand anymore, it was being squeezed into the open case at his feet, dripping slowly enough for the clowns to see it and try to follow.

And follow they did, back into the case, back where they came from.

‘No!’ shouted the bricklayer, ‘Only I can send them back!’

The bricklayer had wrenched a knife from one of the clowns and was charging at Django. But he never made it that far, cut short when Gabriel took his shot and hit him in the chest. He fell, bleeding, and could only watch as his army disappeared into the darkness.

And when the clowns had reduced in number to around five hundred, enough to see the floor again, the bricklayer dragged himself to the exit. Gabriel moved after him with the shotgun, but Dante stopped him.

‘Let him go.’

‘But you said—‘

Dante shook his head, ‘We’ve got the case. He can’t hurt anyone else.’

It was good enough for Dante and as usual Gabriel gave him the benefit of the doubt, but Django wasn’t satisfied. He was out of the purple liquid anyway, so he stepped away from the case and ran for the door. Jenny stepped into his place and when the last clown dived back into the case she slammed it shut, and then stood on it to make sure.


Outside Django caught up with the bricklayer as he crawled up into the alley.

‘Wait!’ he shouted after him, ‘I need to know for definite.’

He dropped down onto his knees in front of the crawling man and looked him in the eye.

‘I get it now,’ he said, ‘I know how things are destroyed. But is this how they’re built too?’

The bricklayer said nothing for a moment, then shook his head.

‘No,’ he said, ‘There’s another man, with another briefcase. I don’t know any more than that.’

And knowing that this was the most he could hope for Django pulled the bricklayer to his feet and sent him on his merry bleeding way.


When Dante had finally reassured her that standing on the briefcase wasn’t required to keep the clowns in Jenny returned to the stage for a last couple of songs. Molly backed away from the mic at first, but Jenny held out her arms and took the bass from her. They played the rest of their set like that, Jenny playing mostly the wrong notes and Molly making up her lyrics as she went along. The people at the back started to lose interest and some left or went to the bar for drinks, but that wasn’t so important now – they were enjoying themselves for the first time that evening.

Meanwhile Dante and Gabriel were assessing the damage. It looked like a bulldozer had come through the bar, but it was mostly surface damage – nothing structural. Half the bar itself was gone and they’d need a lot of new furniture but all things considered they had been pretty lucky. They just had to decide what to do with the case – whether it was more dangerous to keep it or throw it away.

Django was sitting on the floor having a drink with Sara and some of the regulars. He was telling them what happened to him, in a matter of fact way that made it sound like it was the kind of thing that happened to him every day. This meant than none of the assembled audience really believed a word of it, and as he listened in from a distance Dante decided that this was probably for the best.

‘What happened when you got to the mirror?’ asked Sara, wondering why Django wasn’t a tiny clown.

‘Mustn’t have worked on me,’ he lied.


The next morning Django was standing on the rooftop, looking across at the buildings again. The one that was still being built yesterday looked pretty much finished - it had been a busy night for someone. He had thought that greater knowledge about the way this world had been constructed would have been some comfort. But it wasn’t any kind of comfort at all.

He looked down at his hand and remembered standing in front of that mirror and reaching out to touch his distorted reflection. He remembered the pain that shot though his body as his fingers sent ripples across the surface of the glass. And he remembered her voice.

‘I can help you,’ said the woman in the mirror, ‘I can stop this, send you back home.’

Django had agreed without hearing the terms, thinking nothing could be worse than the transformation he had seen the poor acts before him go through.

‘All I ask in return,’ she said, ‘is that you owe me a favour. And that when I ask you for this favour, whatever it may be, you do it, without question.’

A slender, white hand emerged from the mirror at that point. Django had taken the hand in his and kissed it. And then he was back in the world and spitting dreams into his hand. He knew they’d be useful for something.

But while he was here and the Dark Room was safe, there was something worse about owing the woman in the mirror a favour. At least before he’d known what he would become, what would be required of him. The tiny clowns knew where they stood, but he had no idea.


The bricklayer had bled his way to Blackfriar’s Bridge where he knew he would find the man in the bowler hat who liked to watch the sun rise over the Thames. His name was Mr. B.

‘Didn’t go too well I see,’ said Mr. B without even looking at the bleeding bricklayer at his feet.

‘They took my case…’ said the bricklayer.

‘That won’t do,’ said Mr. B, ‘I shouldn’t worry though. They’ll be too afraid to get up to any mischief with it. I’ll get it back.’

‘Thank you…I can try again…’

‘Not for you, dear boy. You’re being replaced. Your employment has been terminated.’

The bricklayer looked horrified for a moment, but it only took a moment for Mr. B to run the knife across his throat. And as he bled what remained of his life out through his throat Mr. B scooped out his eyes with a silver teaspoon and then tossed the bricklayer into the river. The cut was so deep that the bricklayer lost his head as he fell.

‘Sometimes I just don’t know my own strength,’ said Mr. B to himself.

Then he quickly strolled over to the other side of the bridge to see which the current would pull through first – the head or the body. When neither came through he sighed, then headed off to work.